The artist and gay activist Gilbert Baker has died in New York; he was 65. In 1978, Baker designed the rainbow flag, which has since become widely known as a symbol of LGBTQ pride and civil rights.
"I am heartbroken," wrote fellow activist Cleve Jones on his Facebook page. "My dearest friend in the world is gone. Gilbert gave the world the Rainbow Flag; he gave me forty years of love and friendship. I can't stop crying. I love you forever Gilbert Baker."
Baker designed the rainbow flag in San Francisco at the request of the city’s first openly gay supervisor, Harvey Milk, in an effort to create a symbol of unity for the LGBTQ community.
The original featured eight stripes: hot pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo and violet. Baker changed the design the following year to the six-striped one used today, with red at the top and violet at the bottom.
"We called him Betsy Ross," said Tom Ammiano, a former supervisor and state lawmaker who was also a contemporary and friend of Baker's. "He always had a theatrical sense. He liked color and design. Every time you look at that flag. That is Gilbert."
Baker said of his creation, “It all goes back to the first moment of the first flag back in 1978 for me. Raising it up and seeing it there blowing in the wind for everyone to see. It completely astounded me that people just got it, in an instant like a bolt of lightning -- that this was their flag. It belonged to all of us. It was the most thrilling moment of my life.”